There are factors that influence member retention which are completely out of your control. Some factors directly influence your member and their decision to renew, like the economy, a pandemic, or changes in their family priorities. And some are the result of decisions made by someone other than the member (for example, companies cutting back on professional membership reimbursement), or by marketplace pressures.
When these unforeseen events impact your retention, will you be a victim or are you thinking of a defensive strategy now?
Thankfully, there are things you can control. Some you’re likely doing already (which you will want to revisit to verify they are still effective) and others have perhaps been on your “we should get around to that someday” list. Oftentimes these are things that aren’t as exciting as acquisition, or as consuming as a major conference or event, so they haven’t risen to the top of the resource list. Yet.
When retention goes soft, the temptation is to blame those unforeseen events (“victim”) and throw everything out and start over. “We need a new renewal series,” we’ve heard many times. “We need better member benefits,” is another common refrain. “Members are getting what they want from social media and say they don’t need us anymore,” has also been blamed for retention shifts. “The economy has impacted our members’ ability to attend our in-person events so they don’t renew.”
While your renewal series might need a refresh (it’s a bad idea to “resell” your benefits in a renewal notice), you might also want to explore if any benefits may have become obsolete. And you can’t pay everyone’s airfare so they can attend your event. The good news is, the answer is likely simpler than that.
RELEVANCE AND MEMBER SATISFACTION DON’T HAPPEN AUTOMATICALLY
If you do nothing to help your fresh new member understand how you are relevant, they will defect and it’s not their fault. They said yes to membership, but that doesn’t make them an expert in your organization or how to use their benefits.
If you’re not going to commit to doing regular, helpful “here’s all you get with membership” practices, stop acquiring members because you’re wasting your money. A “yes” to membership is often an impulse decision, or one made because membership is a “license” to do something (compete, attend, gain access). It’s up to you to show them how to be engaged members and be glad they said “yes.”
Hoping they’ll stay with you “because they get the magazine” isn’t the same as a carefully crafted member development process that informs, inspires and equips them to be active and engaged members of your community. In fact, it can have the opposite effect depending on how “member-dense” your magazine is. If that new member senses the organization is insular and it’s hard to break into the “inner circle,” it’s human nature to withdraw (even for extroverts).
A best-practice member nurturing process isn’t a direct line to improved retention. But it is a strong satisfaction-builder, and satisfaction (as measured by an active listening tool like the Net Promoter Survey) IS a key contributor to healthy renewal behavior. So is a regular, member-only helpful reminder series that informs, inspires, and gives your members relevant information. This will absolutely pay off in improved retention and serve as a defense against those unforeseen de-railers.
DON’T LEAVE THE HEAVY (RELEVANCE) LIFTING TO THE MAGAZINE
Congratulations to you if you have a popular, highly valued magazine. It’s very common that the member magazine ranks at the top of member benefit satisfaction lists. That is, if it’s in tune with your membership base, it’s broadly appealing, well written and has plenty of “memberizing” in it to differentiate it from a newsstand publication.
However, ask yourself—are we an expensive subscription, or are we a membership community with benefits that will positively impact our members? “Subscriber” and “member” are not necessarily interchangeable.
If you’re really a subscription cloaked as a membership organization (National Geographic Society, for example), no amount of onboarding will overcome a stack of unread magazines. If they aren’t reading, one day they will realize they have enough back issues for when they DO have time, and you are off their list of priorities.
However, if you’re a membership community with a broad, relevant array of benefits INCLUDING a good magazine, you owe it to the magazine to distribute the retention responsibility across the entire organization.
YOU KNOW MORE ABOUT YOUR ORGANIZATION THAN YOUR MEMBER DOES
Never assume your member understands which benefits are relevant to them. Today and every day. They have personal priorities and it’s likely that checking your website for something new isn’t on the top of their list. You have to pull them back in, and lead them to the good stuff.
Remember that a website is a collection of pages, and your analytics will prove that your members don’t always start at the home page. In fact, if you’ve got something really important for them to know, don’t just bring them to the home page (even if you have a big screaming link waiting for them). Your home page is like a box of chocolates. So many choices they get distracted and may not go where you want them to land.
If you start each day with “What do I want members to know about today that will bring them value” you’re on the road to relevant member satisfaction. A thoughtfully curated, regular communication helps new (and seasoned) members continually see ways you are delivering the content, resources and connections that will improve their experiences. It’s not a burden, it’s an opportunity. Embrace it.
WATCH FOR ASSUMPTIONS, JARGON AND INSIDE CODE
Membership organizations are fantastic at acronyms. It’s probably because there are a lot of long names out there, and “ABC” is easier for everyone to type and read. Especially if you are inside the organization and do it all the time.
However, there’s hardly a quicker way to turn off a new member than by saying “Thanks for joining ABC. You’ll want to subscribe to DEF and attend HIJ, but don’t forget to sign up for the sub-specialty groups like KLM and NOP.” PDQ you’ll find they stop reading and fade away.
Jargon and inside code are habits to break. Check your language before you send a message to members. Are you using a term that isn’t commonly understood, or does your message assume everyone is up on the latest lingo? It doesn’t make you look smart to toss out new terms. It can have quite the opposite effect you’re looking for. It can make your reader feel out of touch and unwelcome, and human reaction is to pull back when we feel inadequate.
CHECKLIST OF WHAT YOU CAN DO TO SHORE UP MEMBER RETENTION NOW
No one knows when the next out-of-your-control distraction will happen. Maybe never, maybe next week. But by controlling (and doing) what you can today, you are well-positioned to weather whatever comes your way. Here is a list of best-practice tactics that are not onerous and help raise member satisfaction:
1 – Develop a helpful, engaging and relevant welcome and onboarding series. Ideally, this includes a print, delivered-by-mail, welcome kit that includes meaningful explanations (and isn’t over-designed—a shiny brochure will land in the recycling bin, whereas a personalized welcome experience will find a home in the file cabinet). Create a strong series of digital communications or “installments” that focus on member experiences and information, and include ways for them to tell you how they like you so far.
2 – Create a regular, easy-to-consume-and-engage-with digital communication that pulls members back to new or popular content on your website. Use the line above—“What do I want members to know about today that will bring them value?” Be a host, not an absentee landlord.
3 – Practice Active listening. Measure your member satisfaction at regular intervals and watch your trend lines. A tool like the Net Promoter Score is both a leading and lagging indicator of how your members feel about their relationship with the organization now, and how they will act when renewal time rolls around. It also helps you measure whether a change is making an impact.
4 – Don’t overreact. Before you toss out your current member engagement practices or ditch a benefit, measure and monitor. You’ve been around a few decades, possibly. You’re clearly doing a lot of things right. “It’s always been done that way” can mean it’s time for a change, or it can mean we’ve done it this way because it works.
5 – Look ahead. The organizations that were blindsided by the pandemic-caused supply chain issues lost valuable opportunities. When you need envelopes and envelopes aren’t available for months, the only option is to delay your campaigns and delay isn’t simply delay, it’s loss.
6 – Hire someone to nag you. It’s inevitable that your priorities get reconsidered daily by board pressure, staffing changes, and general resource management. While no one likes to be continually reminded of what they aren’t doing, sometimes it’s the only way to get the defensive tactics operationalized.
Take time today to evaluate your defensive tactics to make sure they are in place and ready to deflect an unforeseen derailment of your important work for members.